To promote a culture of wellness, redefine ‘culture’

Patient-centered care

As the healthcare industry embraces initiatives such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health program, it’s important that such culture is defined by a modern standard, according to two experts.

Looking for a stronger and more complete definition of what exactly constitutes a “culture of health” is key, according to a blog post on Health Affairs from Corey Abramson, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, and Daniel Dohan, Ph.D, deputy director of the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California San Francisco. The pair writes that sociological research can be applied to better define what exactly is needed for population health initiatives like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s to be successful.

Many such programs deal in archaic and anachronistic definitions of the social determinants of health and their impacts, according to the blog.

“Culture is a tricky concept that both reflects and emerges from social inequalities. Historically, even well-meaning cultural analyses of social problems have drifted into victim blaming,” they write. “In medicine and public health, cultural analyses may struggle to distinguish the biological or behavioral bases of behavior from their social context or structural causes.”

The authors point to three key ideas that must be included in a definition of “culture” when applied to public health:

  • Personal and group experiences must be included, as they shape how people view the world
  • Include the “cultural toolkit” that people develop on their own
  • Shared symbols and other experiences tie people together in communities

The authors offer examples of these ideas in practice for public health. For example, they point to a man who, when choosing oncology care, looked for a team of physicians he had “a lot of faith in” on a personal level. He was able to connect with his doctors, according to the article, because they shared experiences and interests--thus, making each feel like a part of the same community, according to the blog. Emphasizing that type of connection can be used in population health to promote wellness, according to the article